Earn, Save, Give 1
Passage: 1 Kings 3:1–3:13
I was watching the New York Giants play the Philadelphia Eagles a few weeks ago and was pleasantly surprised when something other than the football game came on my tv. Just kidding John. Well, only kind of. During the football game they showed a special sneak peak of the newest Disney cartoon from my childhood to live action movie: this time Aladdin. And I got super excited. Anyone else seen the trailer since then? And who is excited for this?! Yeaaaaahhhhh.
So Aladdin was in the top three of Disney movies from my childhood. And you all, I’m sure, know the plot. Aladdin is poor and stumbles upon a lamp which holds a genie who will grant Aladdin three wishes. There’s more to the plot, but that will suffice for now. And everyone that saw Aladdin had the exact same conversation at some point after seeing the movie: if you found a Genie what would your three wishes be?
Now in the movie the genie says there are three rules that limit what you can ask for. Anyone know the three? (1) The genie can’t kill anyone. (2) The genie can’t make someone fall in love with you. And (3) the genie can’t bring someone back from the dead. Now upon hearing those rules if I asked you what you’d wish for if the genie offered you three wishes there is a clear right answer, it’s not even close, and Aladdin is beyond foolish that he never asks for this.
It’s unlimited wishes.
Yeah, if a genie gives you three wishes one of those three had better be more wishes. The genie said there were three things that were not allowed to be wished, unlimited wishes were not in there, how is that not the first thing Aladdin wishes for?!
Instead Aladdin’s first official wish is to become a prince. And Aladdin is given all the trappings of wealth that come with royalty. He rides an Elephant, he’s surrounded by servants, he’s wearing expensive fine clothing. His caravan includes all manner of food and crops and animals. Everything that in the ancient world would signal you were wealthy.
How many of us, if we had a genie granting us wishes, after wishing for more wishes because clearly, would then wish for wealth? How many of us would wish for our debt to go away or for a bigger house that was already paid off (and the money for future property tax payments and for water heaters that never break and for a fridge that physically updates with current trends, are you seeing why more wishes is the first wish?). How many of us are like Aladdin in that our first wish would be to make us American Royalty?
When Americans are asked what they would do if they won the lottery most say they’d pay off debt. Most talk about the special thing they’ve always wanted to buy, the luxury car the big tv etc. Most talk about places they want to travel. Occasionally you’ll hear about people starting charities or endowments but honestly it often comes after they first settle their own finances and second splurge a little bit.
Why am I talking about genies and wishes? We are going to look at a story from Scripture where God offers to grant the new king of Israel one wish. The king in question is Solomon and God offers to give him one thing, whatever he asks. Which sounds totally amazing! Until you realize that 1) you’re being offered anything in the universe from the almighty creator of the universe and 2) you’re gonna be judged for that you ask for, if not by God then by the rest of us who read this story over and over for the rest of time.
And I think its telling, as we approach this story, that most of the time when we are offered wishes, most of the time when we think about winning the lottery we picture what we’d do based on our own personal economics. As we look at this story think about how easy it could have been for Solomon to ask for so many other things. He could have asked for a military to defeat the nations and defend his own. He could have asked for riches beyond measure, either for him or for his Kingdom. He could have asked for forty years of fertile harvest. He could have asked for forty years free of plague. He could have asked for literally anything. We shall find out now what it was he asked for.
1 Kings 3 New International Version (NIV)
3 Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter. He brought her to the City of David until he finished building his palace and the temple of the Lord, and the wall around Jerusalem. 2 The people, however, were still sacrificing at the high places, because a temple had not yet been built for the Name of the Lord. 3 Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.
4 The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
6 Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.
7 “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.
When faced with the choice to get whatever he wanted from God, Solomon asks for a discerning heart to govern the people and to know right from wrong. Simply Solomon asks for wisdom. For isn’t that what wisdom is, but to have a discerning heart and able to know right from wrong?
We are going to come back to this passage in a moment but first I want to digress to a quick story. When I was in eighth grade I was floored by something my civics teacher told me. We were in the middle of a unit on economics and he looked at us and said all of you in this class will make over one million dollars in your lifetime. Then said actually you’ll likely make many millions of dollars in your life. And then proceeded to tell us that over a thirty year career if you make a full time salary of $33,333 you would make one million dollars. Of course what he is talking about is pure earnings and not talking about saving $1,000,000 but it still blew my mind. I went home and told my parents “did you know what you have made over a million dollars in your career?!” They then of course explained to me that just cause you make a million dollars over your career does not make you a millionaire, and frankly I’m thankful they didn’t point out to me yes they had made a lot of money and that’s just how expensive I was as a child, but my mind was still blown.
I grew up the child of two teachers and don’t get me wrong we always had all the things we needed and my childhood was very happy, but I also grew up knowing we didn’t have money for all the things I wanted. I knew we weren’t rich. And there’s nothing wrong with not being rich, but I knew there were people who were rich and they made a lot of money and had a lot of money and that wasn’t my family. But when I heard that most careers, over time, would never over one million dollars it made me realize that on some level we are all kinda rich.
I tell you that story because when we approach our Scripture text this morning we can’t forget the subject of the story is a king. The person being offered something of God is a very privileged person who can safely see to his own needs. To ask for gold would be, for Solomon, to ask for more gold. To ask for security would be to ask for more security. What Solomon realizes in his request is that he doesn’t lack any resource per se, what he lacks is the appropriate wisdom to know how to use the resources he already has. So he asks God for wisdom.
And God is pleased by what he asked for. God responds, “10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.”
God says not only will I give you the wisdom you asked for, but because you asked for wisdom you will also get wealth and honor. God makes Solomon wise, wiser than anyone who has ever come before him, and in addition Solomon becomes wealthy and honorable. It’s almost as if the wealth and the honor were natural byproducts of wisdom.
Which is why I digressed about most careers earning over a million dollars.
But now another digression.
We are living completely in the information age. We have never had greater access to information. And that is especially true when it comes to finances. And yet how many young people do we know who come out of their period of education with crippling student load debt? How many people in our community are crushed by credit card debt and are still charging and charging and charging? How many couples start their marriages off with insurmountable debt only to see finances become a wedge in their relationship? How many fail to start planning early enough for retirement? How many put off writing a will? How many fail to do, in an era of immense financial information, the basics?
And we are at an all time high when it comes to access to information regarding the Bible. There are millions of blogs doing bible studies and ethics and theology. If all you thought was I needed to know what the Bible said about money you could put that into google and get thousands of hits. But here’s the difference between information and wisdom. I see this amongst my colleagues. Pastors theoretically have all the information on the Bible and money one could ever want or need. And in congregations I’ve served I have seen financial advisors, lawyers, accountants all more than willing to help out their pastor. So it’s not just that pastors have access to Biblical guidance but we also have access to knowledgeable professionals who will gladly lend their expertise. And yet I know pastors who are still suffering under crippling student loan debt who go into credit card debt because they can’t figure out how to do a family budget even though there are financial advisors in their congregation. I have seen pastors approach retirement not only knowing they don’t have enough saved up but also not having a plan for their housing. They lived in parsonages all their lives and didn’t plan to enter the housing market. And this is despite the fact that they had real estate agents, financial advisors, retirement advisors, etc all in their congregations and they had access to tons of information from the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits. I don’t say all this to besmirch my colleagues but I say it to point out that in this day and age we are not lacking in information. And its not even that pastors lack resources as there are plenty of pastors that retire well. So if pastors don’t lack spiritual direction, if they don’t lack financial information, and if they don’t lack financial resources what is lacking? It’s the same thing that’s lacking for all of us. And it’s the thing Solomon realized he was lacking and asked of God: we lack wisdom.
For the Sundays in November we are going to be talking about money. Brace yourselves. But I am convinced, and for that you can blame my eighth grade civics teacher, that when it comes to money our main deficiency is not financial resources, but its wisdom. I am convinced that when it comes to our finances the main thing that we need from God, and from the church, is wisdom in how to use the resources we already have.
If you told me that over the next 15 years my family would earn one million dollars I would tell you that I have all the resources to do all the things I want to do. I can provide for my family the kind of life I want to provide. I can do with my money the things that would witness to my character.
And yet if you were to reverse the question and say what do I need to feel secure in the way I’m providing for my family and what do I need to be able to have my finances witness to my character or the way I want to live what I’d say is more money. I don’t feel like I’m alone in this.
That disconnect, that if I was promised what my family’s projected earnings are over the next 15 years how I’d feel about my financial outlook versus what I feel like I need to feel good about my financial outlook is primarily a wisdom question. Which is where I feel like the church ought to come in.
I’ll give full credit to Solomon. He knew what he lacked and he wasn’t afraid to ask for it. My hope and my prayer is that we can be the same. And we can lean on the church’s tradition and the wisdom of those who have come before us in the acquisition of that which we currently do not possess. I need wisdom when it comes to my finances. I imagine you might feel the same need. And if so, I invite you to take part in the upcoming sermon series.
John Wesley was the founder of United Methodism. John Wesley was an Anglican Priest that had his heart strangely warmed by the Gospel and believed that the Christian faith ought to be real. It ought to not only touch your heart, but set it ablaze. It ought to animate your life. We aren’t the frozen chosen here. We are the ones who only truly live when we live in accordance with our faith.
And in accordance with that belief that the Christian life isn’t just one from of life set next to all others but for us the only life that makes sense and is worth it and exciting, Wesley had three rules for how to handle money. Wesley provides us with wisdom in how we exercise our personal finances in accordance with God’s will. And it is that wisdom we are going to tap into over the next three weeks.
Those rules are earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can. Jesus once said that where our treasure is, where our money is, where our finances are, there are hearts will be also. In a metaphorical way Jesus says that the way we exercise our personal finances reveals our heart and our character. I believe that Wesley’s rules give us the wisdom so that we can harness the resources we have so that our financial lives are free to reveal our character. In following Wesley’s rules we gain the wisdom to allow our finances to reveal where are hearts are. If we earn all we can and save all we can, we find the freedom to let our finances be a witness.
In conjunction with all this we are going to ask you to think about your financial commitment to Spirit & Life for the upcoming year. There is a commitment pledge sheet we are going to give you each week that we want you to consider and pray over. Look at your finances. Consider how you are earning all you can and saving all you can. And pray about what that means for how you can give all you can.
Many times church’s do stewardship campains that ask you to pledge so we can figure a budget or that talk about all the needs the church has and how you are obligated to help the church meet its needs. But here’s what I believe deep in my bones: regardless of the financial needs of this church, we all need financial wisdom. And we all want to give our money to help further the mission of God in the world, a mission I hope this church is accomplishing. My hope is that through this series you might gain some more financial wisdom. Not so that you can give this church more money, although I won’t turn it down. But so that you can feel better about the way you use your money. About the way you employ your resources. So that you can feel like you have gained wisdom and using that wisdom come to see yourself blessed by God beyond measure. Let us pray.